A few years ago I bought a Tibetan Thangka painting from Gangtok (Sikkim). Back then I have close to zero experience, neither knowing what it means, its various themes nor how to choose a good one. It was beautifully hung in my living room but my appreciation didn’t go beyond it’s pure appearance. In the end I gave it to a friend while I packed up for this trip. Since last October when I sat foot on Gangtok again, I eagerly checking out a new thangka replacement, hopefully bigger and nicer.

This time, I hope to learn more about it before buying. But shops in Gangtok don’t seem to explain. The more I could do was looking through piles of them and choose one. Though, I didn’t feel confident and comfortable to just buy one like this. From then on, I was addicted to walking into Tibetan Thangka shops wherever I go. By purely looking through piles of Thangkas over a period of times, I can only learn the different painting styles and qualities (workmanship). Tons of Thangka shops in Mamalapuram, but these salesmen failed to convince me. “Let me tell you how to look at it….” and they led me browse through piles of thangkas, “See! So beautiful…. Beautifully done…. Beautiful… I can make it cheaper for you… Which one you like? How much?” They were too eager to sell. One shop we walked in, the sales guy is a Muslim, and claimed that he uses Thangka for meditation. “I sit in front of it and meditate. I immediately calm down and feel peace. I believe in it, even I am a Muslim.” Oh! People use Thangka for meditation! As being ask how, what to look for, he couldn’t explain further… We ended up walking out of his shop baring with his sour face.

In Chennai, shop owners simply told me that they have no knowledge about it, if I like, I could look through the pile myself.

‘May be I can speak to the Tibetan monks at Sera. They might be able to give me some ideas.” In Sera, we were hanging out with Tibetan monks for few days, but the topic of Thangka appreciation didn’t come up as I wanted.

The next pleasant encounter was at Varanasi, a Thanga shop in front of Sarnath, where Buddha did his first teaching. The shop owner is a Nepali, grown up in a Thangka artist community, and he has artisans to paint in his shops. He showed me the different themes of Thangka, “This thanka depicts the ‘Life of Buddha’, this one is ‘circle of life’, mandala…” and some Deities paintings. I express concerns in the accuracy of the details, and he explained with patience and some of his paintings look quite refine… He showed me a big book written on thangka, but unfortunately we didn’t copy down the title.

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In Kathmandu, some artist-owned thangka shops were able to provide explanation on thangka appreciation, we finally bought one mantra painting from him. But the sewing of cloth frame spoilt it. I am thinking of reframing it once I get back home…

Jing

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